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Writing Guide with Handbook

8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports

Writing Guide with Handbook8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Determine purpose and audience expectations for an analytical report.
  • Identify key features of informal and formal reports.
  • Define key terms and characteristics of an analytical report.

It is important to understand the purpose of your report, the expectations of the audience, any specific formatting requirements, and the types of evidence you can use.

Defining a Specific Purpose

Your purpose is your reason for writing. The purpose of a report is to inform; as the writer, you are tasked with providing information and explaining it to readers. Many topics are suitable for informative writing—how to find a job, the way a disease spreads within a population, or the items on which people spend the most money. Some textbooks are examples of informative writing, as is much of the reporting you find on reputable news sites.

An analytical report is a type of report. Its purpose is to present and analyze information. An assignment for an analytical report will likely include words such as analyze, compare, contrast, cause, and/or discuss, indicating the specific purpose of the report. Here are a few examples:

  • Discuss and analyze potential career paths with strong employment prospects for young adults.
  • Compare and contrast proposals to reduce binge drinking among college students.
  • Analyze the Cause-and-effect of injuries on construction sites and the effects of efforts to reduce workplace injuries.
  • Discuss the Effect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on voting patterns among U.S. citizens of color.
  • Analyze the success and failure of strategies used by the major political parties to encourage citizens to vote.

Tuning In to Audience Expectations

The audience for your report consists of the people who will read it or who could read it. Are you writing for your instructor? For your classmates? For other students and teachers in professional fields or academic disciplines? For people in your community? Whoever your readers are, they expect you to do the following:

  • Have an idea of what they already know about your topic, and adjust your writing as needed. If readers are new to the topic, they expect you to provide necessary background information. If they are knowledgeable about the topic, they will expect you to cover the background quickly.
  • Provide reliable information in the form of specific facts, statistics, and examples. Whether you present your own research or information from other sources, readers expect you to have done your homework in order to supply trustworthy information.
  • Define terms, especially if audience members may be unfamiliar with your topic.
  • Structure your report in a logical way. It should open with an introduction that tells readers the subject and should follow a logical structure.
  • Adopt an objective stance and neutral tone, free of any bias, personal feelings, or emotional language. By demonstrating objectivity, you show respect for your readers’ knowledge and intelligence, and you build credibility and trust, or ethos, with them.
  • Present and cite source information fairly and accurately.

Informal Reports

An informal analytical report will identify a problem, provide factual information about the problem, and draw conclusions about the information. An informal report is usually structured like an essay, with an introduction or summary, body paragraphs, and a conclusion or recommendations. It will likely feature headings identifying key sections and be presented in academic essay format, such as MLA Documentation and Format or APA Documentation and Format. For an example of an informal analytical report documented in APA style, see Trevor Garcia’s paper on the U.S. response to COVID-19 in 2020 in the Annotated Student Sample.

Other types of informal reports include journalism reports. A traditional journalism report involves a reporter for a news organization reporting on the day’s events—the results of an election, a political crisis, a plane crash, a celebrity marriage—on TV, on radio, or in print. An investigative journalism report, on the other hand, involves reporters doing original research over a period of weeks or months to uncover significant new information, similar to what Barbara Ehrenreich did for her book Nickel and Dimed. For sample traditional and investigative journalistic reports, visit the website of a reliable news organization or publication, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the New Yorker, or the Atlantic.

Formal Reports

Writers in the social sciences, the natural sciences, technical fields, and business often write formal analytical reports. These include lab reports, research reports, and proposals.

Formal reports present findings and data drawn from experiments, surveys, and research and often end with a conclusion based on an analysis of these findings and data. These reports frequently include visuals such as graphs, bar charts, pie charts, photographs, or diagrams that are captioned and referred to in the text. Formal reports always cite sources of information, often using APA Documentation and Format, used in the examples in this chapter, or a similar style.

If you are assigned a formal report in a class, follow the instructions carefully. Your instructor will likely explain the assignment in detail and provide explicit directions and guidelines for the research you will need to do (including any permission required by your college or university if you conduct research on human subjects), how to organize the information you gather, and how to write and format your report. A formal report is a complex, highly organized, and often lengthy document with a specified format and sections usually marked by headings.

Following are the components of a formal analytical report. Depending on the assignment and the audience, a formal report you write may include some or all of these parts. For example, a research report following APA format usually includes a title page, an abstract, headings for components of the body of the report (methods, results, discussion), and a references page. Detailed APA guidelines are available online, including at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.

Components of Formal Analytical Reports

  • Letter of transmittal. When a report is submitted, it is usually accompanied by a letter or email to the recipient explaining the nature of the report and signed by those responsible for writing it. Write the letter of transmittal when the report is finished and ready for submission.
  • Title page. The title page includes the title of the report, the name(s) of the author(s), and the date it was written or submitted. The report title should describe the report simply, directly, and clearly and should not try to be too clever. For example, The New Student Writing Project: A Two-Year Report is a clear, descriptive title, whereas Write On, Students! is not.
  • Acknowledgments. If other people and/or organizations contributed to the report, include a page or paragraph thanking them.
  • Table of contents. For long reports (10 pages or more), create a table of contents to help readers navigate easily. List the major components and subsections of the report and the pages on which they begin.
  • Executive summary or abstract. The executive summary or abstract is a paragraph that highlights the findings of the report. The purpose of this section is to present information in the quickest, most concentrated, and most economical way possible to be useful to readers. Write this section after you have completed the rest of the report.
  • Introduction or background. The introduction provides necessary background information to help readers understand the report. This section also indicates what information is included in the report.
  • Methods. Especially in the social sciences, the natural sciences, and technical disciplines, the methods or procedures section outlines how you gathered information and from what sources, such as experiments, surveys, library research, interviews, and so on.
  • Results. In the results section, you summarize the data you have collected from your research, explain your method of analysis, and present this information in detail, often in a table, graph, or chart.
  • Discussion or Conclusion. In this section, you interpret the results and present the conclusions of your research. This section also may be called “Discussion of Findings.”
  • Recommendations. In this section, you explain what you believe should be done in response to your research findings.
  • References and bibliography. The references section includes every source you cited in the report. The bibliography contains, in addition to those cited in the report, sources that readers can consult to learn more.
  • Appendix. An appendix (plural: appendices) includes documents that are related to the report or contain information that can be culled but are not deemed central to understanding the report.

The following links take you to sample formal reports written by students and offer tips from librarians posted by colleges and universities in the United States. These samples may help you better understand what is involved in writing a formal analytical report.

Exploring the Genre

The following are key terms and characteristics related to reports.

  • Audience: Readers of a report or any piece of writing.
  • Bias: A preconceived opinion about something, such as a subject, an idea, a person, or a group of people. As a reader, be attentive to potential bias in sources; as a writer, be attentive to your own biases.
  • Body: The main part of a report between the introduction and the conclusion. The body of an analytical report consists of paragraphs in which the writer presents and analyzes key information.
  • Citation of sources: References in the written text to sources that a writer has used in a report.
  • Conclusion and/or recommendation: The last part of a report. In this section, the writer summarizes the significance of the information in the report or offers recommendations—or both.
  • Critical thinking: The ability to look beneath the surface of words and images to analyze, interpret, and evaluate them.
  • Ethos: The sense that the writer or other authority is trustworthy and credible; also known as ethical appeal.
  • Evidence: Statements of fact, statistics, examples, and expert opinions that support the writer’s points.
  • Facts: Statements whose truth can be proved or verified and that serve as evidence in a report.
  • Introduction: The first section of a report after any front matter, such as an abstract or table of contents. In an analytical report, the writer introduces the topic to be addressed and often presents the thesis at the end of the introduction.
  • Logos: The use of facts as evidence to appeal to an audience’s logical and rational thinking; also known as logical appeal.
  • Objective stance: Writing in a way that is free from bias, personal feelings, and emotional language. An objective stance is especially important in report writing.
  • Purpose: The reason for writing. The purpose of an analytical report is to examine a subject or issue closely, often from multiple perspectives, by looking at causes and effects, by comparing and contrasting, or by examining problems and proposing solutions.
  • Statistics: Factual statements that include numbers and often serve as evidence in a report.
  • Synthesis: Making connections among and combining ideas, facts, statistics, and other information.
  • Thesis: The central or main idea that you will convey in your report. The thesis is often referred to as the central claim in argumentative writing.
  • Thesis statement: A declarative sentence (sometimes two) that states the topic, the angle you are taking, and the aspects of the topic you will cover. For a report, a thesis indicates and limits the scope of the report.
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